Dear Thunderbird

For reasons I have yet to grasp, God saw fit to put you where you are: here with me on a farm in Africa. Sometimes I wonder where you even came from. The fact that your mother is a little round chestnut farm pony doesn’t mean that she isn’t valuable – to me, at least, her value is inexpressible – but she shouldn’t have been able to produce you. Not at 22 years old after being barren for at least seven years (if not all her life), not after having AHS when you were only a baby. The fact that you and your dam both made it out of that one alive was the first miracle that threw me to my knees.


Let alone the fact that you shouldn’t have survived, you should never have been talented. When people at shows ask me how you’re bred, I respond with, “His daddy was black and his mommy was chestnut,” and it’s about all I know. There is Friesian in there somewhere. You are a backyard-bred mongrel and you should never have been able to dance like you do. Dressage people should not be believing in you. Yet they are, because here you are; an unassuming little round bay horse, until you lift your back and suddenly grow two inches.

Your heart, at least, I can understand. Your dam is a fearless firestorm of a horse, a dauntless warrior queen of your kind. You’re not as fiery as she is, but, like her, you have a heart as big as the world.


That’s what makes you special, aside from whatever it is that makes you so supple and uphill and majestic. Your heart. You never stop giving. I never school for more than 20 minutes, except for you. Some days I look up and realise I’ve been on you for almost an hour and a half. Any horse should be sour by then, but not you; you stay enthusiastic, throwing yourself into the task, focused and attentive, delighting in your own God-given strength and beauty.

Some days, on your back, God takes me somewhere new; deeper into the land of the threefold cord, where there’s nothing but you and me and Him, and the dance. There is nothing that can touch us there. It’s a taste of Heaven; an intimate world where nothing else matters.

Some days. You see, love (and I know you do), while for 23 hours a day you live the comfortable life of the modern domestic horse – lolling in a field, teeth and feet always up to date, spine carefully adjusted, saddle fitted like a glove – I think God gave you a home that loves you for a reason. The only affliction you’ve ever had to endure sits between the saddle and the sky. I never mean to hurt you. Of course not. You’re my dance partner. But while there are some days that we taste Heaven, there are many more days when you get the old me, the carnal me, the mortality that is yet to be swallowed up of life, my flesh. The spirit indeed is willing, but you know exactly how weak the flesh can be. Oh, I’m not talking about the occasional hiding you get. Those are for your own good; you’re still a naughty little boy sometimes. But I know as well as you do that there is something we do to horses that is so much worse than just the tap of a dressage whip, or even a yank on the reins.


We’re human. Loud, complicated, emotional and always worrying about things that just don’t matter to horses. Sadly for you, you’re my horse. I can’t make the space between you and me that I have with the clients’ horses. Not with you. I need you. I don’t just need you to dance; I need you to hear me. I don’t have to explain anything to you. I just bring all my baggage and my fears and my hopes and my dreams and my exhaustion and bottle them all up and get on your back and try to make something beautiful, while emotions clash inside me so loud I can’t hear you and you can hardly hear yourself and God’s still small Voice doesn’t get through.

It’s ugly then. I’m sorry, love. I’m trying to fix it, but I can’t pretend it’ll be quick. I can’t pretend it’ll be easy or that there won’t be even more moments when my stressed out human will shouts down your quiet, loving opinion. We were made in the image of God, unlike you; but, also unlike you, we are the ones who fell.


God forgive me, sometimes I can make your life very hard for you. I know; then I worry about that, and make it even harder. You poor soul. You deserve better. But what you’ve got is me, and you’ve got me because God put us here together.

And you don’t mind.

I stress and fuss and freak out up there and make you tense. But you start every single ride with the same soft eye, the same supple back, ready for this ride to be better. You still come up to me in the field. You still love your work and never stop trying and concentrate, oh, how you concentrate. And with every breath, God is teaching me, not about dressage, but about Himself: about amazing grace.


I ask God’s forgiveness and I ask yours. And I won’t give up, because God hasn’t. You and me have a long, long way to go and sometimes it will be unpleasant. I don’t mean to make it hard for you. I don’t even mean to make it hard for myself. It just is. And you just accept it and go along with it, not questioning why your particular human should be the one that’s a little defective, just accepting that your heart is big enough for us both. I will be better for you, love. I promise. Just stay patient, stay loving, stay your wonderful self while I untangle my soul.

Thank you, buddy.

Glory to the King.

2018 Goals: Yard and Personal

With December 28th marking two years after the arrival of our first official liveries (Zorro and Jamaica, who infamously jumped the fence and broke his scapula six hours later), running the yard is becoming much more second nature. In previous years, the day-to-day has been more than enough for me to handle. But as we get more used to routines and programmes, and as my faith in God’s ability to handle it grows, we can start going deeper now.

The yard belongs to God. His plan for it is perfect. It always has, and it always will. Setting goals is not me demanding God to do what I want. It’s just me doing my job to the best of my ability.

Stableyard Goals


  • Build the eight stables, preferably before winter. God’s grace here again; we couldn’t possibly have built them from scratch, not this year, but we’re clearing out an old shed (barn for you international readers picturing me wedging ponies into a tool shed) and dividing it up into stables. It won’t cost much except time and ingenuity.
  • Repair the clippers before April. This one is subject to how expensive it’ll be, but if I can clip the client horses, it’ll help.
  • Build part of the little clubhouse. Not sure yet how we’ll do this, but it needs to be done. It’ll happen if God wills it.
  • Pass Module 5. Then we’ll have an internationally qualified coach!
  • Get my licence to tow the horsebox. Hopefully ASAP so that I can quit bumming lifts to lessons.
  • Hit our financial goal consistently.

Personal Goals


  • Finish the first draft of the novel. God called me so clearly to this one.
  • Write 10-12 blog posts per month, every month. We made it most of last year, but not always consistently.
  • Take a WHOLE day off every single week. Firstly, this is God’s explicit commandment. Secondly, I have severely struggled with burnout for two years. It’s a horrible, horrible feeling, it makes me half the person I can be, and I’m only 20. My body will not handle burning out four times a year for the rest of my life. Obviously, sometimes emergencies happen (beast in a pit, anyone?) but I need to focus on this because it IS a sin and I have repented.

There are many other personal things I want to achieve this year, but they’re impossible. That makes them not my job, so I can’t quantify them in goals. I can just be still and watch the Lord fight for me. And watch when He achieves the impossible. It’s His speciality.

Glory to the King.

2018 Goals: Training Horses Q1

I hope to pick up one or two more training horses in the next month or so, but for now, let’s look at the foursome that are booked in already. As the goal is to pass them on to their owners as quickly as possible, I’ll be setting quarterly instead of annual goals for them.

Champagne

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Pagney has taken time to get where she’s gotten, but we’ve still seen considerable progress. The first week we had her, it took three of us to lead her across the stableyard – in order to turn her out in the lunging ring, the only place that could hold her. Now, we’ve got our first trip off the property under our belts, as well as her first show. It was just our home show, but she only had one little spook and the judges thought she was rather sweet.

Having sorted the worst of the remedial issues, as well as getting all the physical things thoroughly checked out, we can hopefully move on to some proper schooling and showing now.

2018 Q1 goals:

Shows:

  • Early Feb: Pre-HOY – in-hand, show riding and show hack
  • Late Feb: HOY – in-hand, show riding and show hack. For both of these shows, my only goal is for her to have a good experience.
  • March: SANESA Q2, if, and only if, she coped well at HOY. At least dressage, probably prix caprilli and performance riding as well. If HOY was a bit dodgy, we’ll do a training show or something quiet.

General:

  • Improve on her habit of throwing her head and running forward when scared.
  • Improve the consistency of her connection, particularly through transitions.
  • Improve her trot-canter transitions to the point where I can get the lead almost all the time without bucking.

 

Savanna

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Savanna has also shown quite a lot of improvement, with most of the remedial work also out of the way. This year she will be competing in dressage with her child, but I really want to hand her over to him almost completely in the last quarter so that he can showjump her at 70cm in 2019. I’ll probably always recommend having this horse in half training to the clients, but my goal is to improve her to the point where it’s only necessary as a precautionary measure. Old habits die very hard and have a nasty habit of resurrecting.

2018 Q1 goals:

  • Confirm all the Prelim work, including the stretches, square halts, and the little lengthening.
  • Continue working on gymnastics to improve her carefulness to the point where poles down happen once in a blue moon. Prepare to start schooling over 70-80cm fences in the second quarter.
  • Jump at least two clear rounds at shows.

 

Emmy

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Emmy’s owner wants to put her on the market pretty soon, so if all goes according to plan she’ll sell during this quarter, but we’ll keep on schooling until that happens. She’s already giving me bits of canter and all the trot figures – including an obedient walk/trot test at our show, albeit with her nose happily in the sky and her spine bent like a banana – so we’re also going to look at her first show or two in February/March if the owner wants.

2018 Q1 Goals:

Finish preliminary schooling:

  • confirm a united and balanced canter, with transitions and circles
  • hack alone and in company
  • introduction to small fence

Introduce to shows:

  • go to a show and have a good experience.

 

Titan

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I’ll probably have Titan all year too, since his kid is pretty new and definitely not ready for a greenie, so he can only be handed over once he is really quiet and reliable in all situations. Still, we’ll take it one quarter at a time, with an eye on the eventual goal of the kid doing SANESA 2019 on him.

2018 Q1 Goals:

Finish backing:

  • introduce trot
  • introduce canter
  • introduce the big arena.

Start preliminary schooling:

  • introduce the figures
  • establish a united canter, including circles
  • introduce small, simple fences
  • hack alone and in company (he will be spooky; it doesn’t have to be perfect).

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I can’t wait to see my babies blossom into the horses their kids will love. Glory to the King.